A significant increase in adult education support staff is one of the key recommendations of a major 10-year Government strategy on literacy, numeracy and digital skills to be launched next month.
The cross-departmental strategy aims to tackle a significant issue in Irish society with one in six adults having problems reading and understanding information, while half the adult population lacks basic digital or computer skills.
Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris has warned that “we are at risk of leaving a generation of people behind if we do not take action”.
Despite Ireland’s reputation for having one of the best education systems in the world, Mr Harris told the Dáil last week that the numbers of people struggling with literacy and numeracy issues was a “failure of the State and of public services”.
The strategy is being developed by further education and training agency Solas. Its recommendations are understood to include more education support staff with the creation of special support teams which will include disability officers to assist those with additional learning needs.
An extensive consultation with people who struggle with reading and writing ended in December and Mr Harris said they received a lot of feedback.
“One of the overwhelming responses is the fear of stigma and embarrassment associated with literacy difficulties. It is the main barrier to people accessing help. Ending the stigma and delivering the assistance people need is the aim of this plan,” he said.
“People have told us they need help with completing daily activities such as online banking, accessing public services. Digital literacy is a critical need now more than ever, and there is a need to make public services totally accessible to everyone.”
The strategy calls for advertising and public awareness campaigns, considering them the most important way to raise awareness and encourage participation in courses.
It favours a focus on practical training for everyday functions including financial tasks such as banking, budgeting, paying bills, as well as engaging with public, medical and other services, and being able to understand information supplied.
A key element includes the use of plain English in learning materials whether on paper, video, audio or online.
The strategy also recommends a scheme to lend tablets and other devices as well as grants and loans to improve access to technology.
Special devices or assistive technology for people with additional learning needs should be more widely available in public libraries, schools and colleges and in the provision of public services. The strategy also favours such technology being widely available to those who need it, not exclusively for people who have a diagnosed disability.